CB: The Colts have the potential to have one of the most dangerous wide receiving corps in football, assuming everyone can stay healthy. How much does Reggie Wayne have left in the tank and how long will it take Hakeem Nicks to get more involved in the offense?
PW: Wayne can still put up numbers, just probably not the gaudy ones we're used to seeing in the past. Problem is, the Colts took away a lot of the passing options last week. Reg had three catches, Nicks one. Only T.Y. Hilton had the targets (11), and he caught six passes. While the Colts ran the ball well, Andrew Luck seemed out of rhythm at times. Nicks showed in preseason he can still be a playmaker, the Colts just need to spread the ball around better. The first week, Wayne caught nine passes and Nicks had a TD catch, but Hilton was the one ignored. Tight end Dwayne Allen had a TD in the opener, then not a single catch last week. It doesn't make sense.
CB: Andrew Luck has been the most sacked and hit quarterback in the NFL since he started as a rookie, and he's also one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the game. Have you seen any adjustment in his game to try and shield himself?
PW: I wish I could say I've seen a difference. The kid is so darned tough, he takes the beating, even pats some pass rushers on the helmet and says, "Nice hit" while the rest of us wonder how much more he can take. We've been around the league long enough, Charlie, we know the shots add up. Part of the tinkering so far with the offense has been to make it more of a West Coast style, the throws short, lots of dump-offs to the backs (at least last week). That will take some of the pressure off him, but the bet is Luck still wants to take his shots down the field. Bruce Arians, Luck's offensive coordinator in 2012, hated dink and dunk and had Luck throwing longer passes. That got him hit more, but he was successful. So while I understand the Colts' philosophy in trying to protect the franchise quarterback, I suspect you can't take part of that competitiveness out of him, the part that wants to fire it down the field.
CB: What would you say is the strength of the Indianapolis defense, and how would you attack the Colts defensively?
PW: Good question. On a defense that's allowed 61 points in two weeks, I'd say there isn't a strength. No, just kidding. Two strengths, I think. The cornerback trio of Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and nickel back Darius Butler has been solid. You would think that wouldn't be the case when looking at a defense that's allowed an average of 300 passing yards so far, but three of the pass TDs in the opener were to tight end Julius Thomas, and aside from a penalty here and there, the coverage has been consistently decent. And that's saying something, considering the front-part of that equation, the Colts' pass rush, has been non-existent. Only one sack and six hurries doesn't get it done. If there's another strength, and that's a big if now that defensive tackle Arthur Jones is out with a high ankle sprain, it's the run defense. Cory Redding, Ricky Jean Francois and Josh Chapman are solid up front against the ground game. But Jones was a key piece before going down last week. We'll see if that D-line holds up without him.
CB: How big of an issue is the offensive line in Indianapolis? There are a few high draft picks with Castonzo and Cherilus at the tackle positions, but a lot of inexperience on the interior.
PW: At the start of training camp, it was the team's No. 1 concern. The Colts have drafted guys, thrown money at guys, and it's been an ongoing struggle to put the right guys in front of Luck. Castonzo and Cherilus are reliable and steady. But the interior is so young. Left guard Jack Mewhort is a rookie out of Ohio State, but his play improved dramatically from the first week to the second. Center A.Q. Shipley was claimed off waivers from Baltimore after final cuts, so the former undrafted snapper from Penn State returned to Indy, where he played in 2012, and he also played better in his second week than his first. But the Colts appear to be ready to switch back to Khaled Holmes at center. A fourth-round pick out of USC in 2013, Holmes has been out since suffering a high ankle sprain in the preseason opener. He took most of the snaps with the first team, so expect him to make his first NFL start Sunday. Who knows if that will be a good thing. Right guard Hugh Thornton is also in his second year, and has been inconsistent. Bottom line, the O-line is still a major concern and, as they say, a work in progress.
CB: The Colts had enough guts to start their rookie quarterback, and he was so good that they were seemingly ahead of schedule with their postseason trips and the victory they had last year. In your opinion, should higher draft picks start at quarterback and get their lumps early on, rather than waiting?
PW: Peyton Manning always said he thought it was the quickest way for a quarterback to learn, to start right away. I heard him repeat that several times. Manning was 3-13 as a rookie, then 13-3 in his second year. Luck has put up even better numbers than Manning, if comparing their first two NFL seasons. That, to me, is the strongest statement for playing rookie QBs. Many of them seem more NFL ready these days, because of their pro-style offenses in college, and the Colts certainly haven't regretted having Luck. It's still a touchy subject in Indy for some fans, how Manning was let go, but that's how much Colts owner Jim Irsay was sold on Luck. I know the Jaguars have a rookie QB in Blake Bortles, who is probably eager to get on the field, but I can see why the Jaguars have been playing Chad Henne. The Jaguars won't admit it, but they had to know the team was going to lose its share of games, and after enough of those losses, when you're sure Bortles is ready, you throw him out there. I won't be surprised if you see him sooner as opposed to later.
Behind Enemy Lines- Part I
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